Kaci Hickox, aptly nicknamed the “Ebola nurse” after her quarantine by New Jersey authorities last year when she arrived from Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, has filed a lawsuit against Governor Chris Christie for false imprisonment. The $250,000 lawsuit, filed in Newark Federal Court on Oct. 22, 2015, was brought with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and was also filed against current and former health officials in New Jersey. Hickox seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged denial of her constitutional rights during the detention last year.
Hickox was involuntarily detained and quarantined upon arrival from Sierra Leone, where she had had contact with Ebola patients. Her detention at Newark Liberty International Airport was a source of multiple headlines on Oct. 24, 2014. The “Ebola nurse” was then held at the local university hospital for a week in conditions she described as “inhumane” and “unbearable.” Although the authorities later agreed to release her to complete the quarantine at home in Maine, Hickox famously broke the restrictions and stirred controversy with her actions. A year later, the nurse, who was working with Doctors Without Borders in West Africa, is now suing the presidential hopeful, Christie. The lawsuit claims the nurse’s rights to privacy and physical integrity were willfully violated by the New Jersey authorities.
According to the lawsuit, the nurse claims she was held against her will despite testing negative for the virus. To her, this was traumatic, as she felt “frustrated,” lonely and forgotten. She outlined how the 21-day quarantine policy was an abuse of power by politicians and a serious affront to her civil rights. The “Ebola nurse” views her lawsuit against the governor for false imprisonment as a lesson to authorities, who should follow the “due process of law” and should not be given to knee-jerk policy decisions based on their own whims and judgments.
The ACLU weighed in and said the New Jersey authorities violated Hickox’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments rights. The former relates to the right to be free from “unreasonable seizure,” while the latter grants the right of due process that should be followed in all actions that may adversely impact citizens. Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU, added that the ultimate decision to quarantine anyone must not be based on “fear and politics.” Arguably, the ordeal has left Hickox with not only emotional scars, but also a nickname that may sound uncomfortable to people close to her: “Ebola nurse.”
The New Jersey governor, who is also battling to gain support for his 2016 presidential campaign, appeared unmoved by the latest legal debacle. The governor’s office refused to comment, as the case is “still pending before the court.” This is in stark contrast to his outburst last year when he told reporters, “I’ve been sued lots of times before….I’m happy to take it on.” The lawsuit against the governor for false imprisonment of the “Ebola nurse” may be intended as a deterrent against harsh public policies drafted by government officials.
However, judging by previous interviews on the matter, Christie might remain determined to pursue the quarantine policy, which is meant to “protect the public health and safety of the people of New Jersey.” The video below shows Hickox’s travails with the authorities when she publicly defied the restrictions imposed on her quarantine after she had returned from West Africa, where she treated Ebola patients.
By Shepherd Mutsvara
MSNBC: Nurse Kaci Hickox Sues Gov. Christie Over Ebola Quarantine
New York Magazine: Quarantined Ebola Nurse Sues Chris Christie for False Imprisonment
Washington Post: Kaci Hickox, Rebel Ebola Nurse Loathed by Conservatives
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of U.K. Department for International Development’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of UNMEER’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License